The results are inJune 25, 2007
IT’S NOT FAIR!
I’m in a whiny, feeling-sorry-for-myself mood right now. The more sympathetic readers among you may wonder why.
It’s not because I didn’t win Western States, which would have been difficult under even the most favorable of circumstances. And it’s not because I failed to meet my time goal, which despite its ridiculous precision (16:41:59) was pretty much a wild guess as to what I was capable of. It’s because I thought I prepared and raced sensibly, and yet it didn’t matter. I was competely destroyed by the course and the warm weather anyway. Poor me!
The outcome was not one I had anticipated during the early miles. I settled into a pace that felt sustainable — probably about 8:30 to 9:00 per mile on the flat, smooth sections — and seemed all the more comfortable because of the tranquil meadows and mountainsides around me. I felt as peaceful as I ever have during a race.
That peace was disturbed slightly by my split times, which from the beginning were slower than I had planned. I arrived at the first major checkpoint, Red Star Ridge (mile 16.0), after 2 hours and 42 minutes, about 13 minutes behind schedule; by Robinson Flat (mile 29.7), my time of 5:02 was 18 minutes slow. But I was sure that speeding up would lead to disaster, so I kept my effort steady, telling myself that most of the people ahead of me would come back to me later or drop out.
Another intrusion on my peacefulness came in the form of Nikki Kimball, who passed me two or three times between mile 25 and 35 before pulling away for good. Getting “chicked” (i.e., losing to a woman) is not easy on my fragile male ego. On the other hand, Nikki finished behind only two male runners at last year’s race, so I was in good company. Also, she’s a friend and fellow Williams College alum, so I was able to enjoy a few minutes of relaxed conversation with her before she grew bored of my pedestrian pace.
All things considered, I was in good spirits as I reached the Last Chance aid station at mile 43.3. I was in 13th place, with plenty of time to work my way into the top five. The volunteers from the Stevens Creek Striders gave me a fresh coat of sunscreen, and I joked with them about eating the pizza they were offering to runners.
I don’t know why that aid station is called “Last Chance,” but in my case it was my last chance to feel good that day. The trail to the next stop, Devil’s Thumb (mile 47.8), consists of 1.7 miles over fairly flat ground followed by a precipitous descent in which you lose 1300 vertical feet over 1.4 miles and then a brutal 1.4-mile climb in which you gain those 1300 feet right back. I thought I was mentally prepared for this section — I had seen the elevation profiles beforehand and knew that I’d have to walk both the descent and the climb — but it seemed to take forever, and I arrived at Devil’s Thumb feeling defeated and somewhat nauseated.
Then came another descent down to El Dorado Creek (mile 52.9). This one wasn’t as steep, but my quads were now showing the effects of the 13,000 or so vertical feet of cumulative downhill covered up to that point. I proceeded with a tentativeness generally reserved for activities like trying to surgically remove one’s own appendix.
Meanwhile, my nausea worsened, and I switched from Gu2O to water. My “water diet,” as might be expected from its lack of electrolytes and calories, proved to be only a temporary fix. I was able to run parts of the climb up to Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7), passing eventual women’s runner-up Bev Anderson-Abbs, and got a rousing cheer from my crew (my wife and her sister) at the aid station. But within a few more miles I was reduced to a slow, unsteady walk.
As I ambled onward, I took stock of my situation. My quads were shot, to the point where I could no longer run downhill at all. I didn’t feel like eating or drinking anything despite the obvious need to do so. Both feet had multiple blisters from the rough, rocky sections of the trail. I was no longer enjoying myself, and the thought of traveling another 40 miles in my weakened state was simply unbearable. I decided to quit.
Once that decision was made, my final Herculean task was to convince the well-meaning volunteers at Foresthill (mile 62.0) that I really, definitely wanted to stop and would not regret my decision tomorrow.
“Let me work on your muscles for a while,” offered one. “Have some soup and think about it some more,” suggested another. “Once you get your electrolytes back to normal, you’ll feel a lot better.”
I struck back with a determination to show that my decision was rational and final. “All the electrolytes in the world will not repair these muscle tears,” I said, pointing to my quads. “I know that,” I added somewhat gratuitously, “because I have a Ph.D. in physiology.” Eventually I got my way.
To those who achieved greater success than I did — from winners Hal Koerner (16:12:16) and Nikki Kimball (18:12:38) to the 250 or so others who finished within the allotted 30 hours — I say: congratulations. My lightweight, sun-shielding racing hat is off to you. As for me, I will not attempt another race like this anytime soon. Although Western States provided some wonderful moments, it exposed my weaknesses (lousy downhill running technique, feet not accustomed to rocky trails, uncertainty about food and drink choices after the first eight hours, etc.) so completely and mercilessly that I feel a strong need to retreat to my strengths for a while. Strengths like my capacity to consume fried chicken, for example. Which should be even more impressive now that my nausea has subsided
Naturally, some people did finish the race, permitting me to determine a winner in my prediction contest. Below is a summary of the voting and actual race performances. The format is: name: votes received; place (among runners of the same gender), time.
Jae-Duk Sim: 9 votes; 10th place, 18:44
Lon Freeman: 9 votes; DNF
Greg Crowther: 7 votes; DNF
Erik Skaden: 5 votes; 2nd place, 16:36
Brian Morrison: 5 votes; DNF
Brian Robinson: 2 votes; 23rd place, 21:20
Graham Cooper: 1 vote; 3rd place, 17:11
Andy Jones-Wilkins: 1 vote; 4th place, 17:20
James Bonnett: 1 vote; 12th place, 19:41
Jon Olsen: 1 vote; 16th place, 20:26
David Goggins: 1 vote; 21st place, 20:52
Jim Huffman: 1 vote; DNS
Joe Kulak: 1 vote; DNE (did not enter)
Nikki Kimball: 25 votes; 1st place, 18:12
Kami Semick: 7 votes; 8th place, 21:40
Anne Lundblad: 6 votes; 9th place, 21:46
Annette Bednosky: 2 votes; 6th place, 21:15
Bev Anderson-Abbs: 1 vote; 2nd place, 19:31
Karine Herry: 1 vote; 3rd place, 20:12
Julie Fingar: 1 vote; 15th place, 23:34
Noticeably absent among the list of vote-getters is men’s champ Hal Koerner, who clocked an impressive time of 16:12. Surprises among the women were less dramatic, with 4th-place Caren Spore (20:36) being the top finisher not to receive any pre-race votes.
Although no voters correctly guessed both the men’s and women’s champions, three people (AJW, Craig Thornley, and Leanne McCulloch) came quite close by endorsing the combination of Erik Skaden (2nd male) and Nikki Kimball (1st female). Based on the predictions of winning times, the tiebreaker goes to AJW. Please step forward to identify yourself — the world wants to know if you are 4th-place finisher Andy Jones-Wilkins — and claim your prize! Thornley and McCulloch will be awarded consolation prizes of some sort.